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Using the arts to “restore” hope and provide a voice

SEATTLE, Wash., February 16, 2023—Art is something that has always resonated with Debra Kendrick, Founder of Restoration of the Arts, a value-based nonprofit focused on youth through art-based programs.

When Kendrick entered middle school at Rainier Temple, she began to cultivate her love for the performing arts by enrolling in her school’s theater program. During one of these productions, Kendra—also an avid poet—was asked if she could write a poem to be featured in the program. She said, “absolutely.” Word quickly spread and before she knew it, her poem was being read on the radio by a local DJ.

“That’s probably around the time I realized I had something going on,” said Kendrick.

Throughout high school, Kendrick’s success in poetry led her to focus more on the written word, while still pursuing the visual arts in various art classes. During her sophomore year, she was notified, by her art instructor, that she had won second place in an art competition she didn’t even realize she had entered. The painting was an abstract piece Kendrick still has to this day.

“It made me realize that I had something on the inside,” said Kendrick. “It was like second nature; it was enjoyable, and it was a great expression for me.”

Kendrick began to write plays after high school while attending English courses at Bellevue College. Her works were inspired by those of Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, and Zora Neale Hurston. She quickly gained a reputation as a prolific playwright in the Seattle area and was constantly approached by churches, organizations, and schools to perform her works in their facilities. One of Kendrick’s best-known plays is The Sound of My Voice, about racial tension surrounding the Rodney King verdict.

While working as a theater production coordinator—her first job—Kendrick began listening to the children with whom she was working, concerning several issues they had experienced with racial profiling. Those experiences shaped what became Remix, the Sound of My Voice updated with current events and personal experiences. These two plays have been performed at several venues throughout Seattle including the Seattle Art Museum.

“It really developed in the church because the church is a great place to be able to be seated and for people to see what you do,” said Kendrick. “That’s when it was seeded in me to start an organization.”

Restoration of the Arts was founded in 2009, named after a book written by Kendrick’s mother about the biblical history of the arts. While Kendrick was attending a meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an intoxicated homeless man entered the building. Kendrick allowed him to come in and watch the dance rehearsal she was leading thinking, “well, this is a place of restoring and healing.” The man sat down and watched the dancers perform their choreography then began to cry. Afterwards, Kendrick met with him and found him resources he needed to address his issues.

“Right then and there was the start of Restoration of the Arts,” said Kendrick. “Every time we restore something we restore it back to its original purpose. That, to me, was the ‘ah-ha’ moment of ‘ah, that’s what this is all about.’”

When Kendrick says “art” she means “art as a means to reach people,” to give an artist a voice they may never had had, and to use art as one of the various ways to restore hope in the artist or the audience, she explained.

At Restoration of the Arts, children and young adults, aged 15 to 20, can volunteer to learn performing arts, twice a week, for six to eight weeks concluding with a performance of a play in a rotating venue. At the beginning of the course, Kendrick opens the floor to conversation to gather the student’s ideas and challenge their creativity. She gives them the voice they need to express what is going on in their personal lives. Kendrick then takes her student’s ideas and, with that information, begins to write the scripts for the course’s end performance.

“The end goal is not to create Halle Berrys or Denzel Washingtons – although they can if they choose – but that they open up, and are empowered, enlightened, educated, and affirmed at the end of it,” said Kendrick.

An example of students’ success in this goal, Kendrick continued, is once, at the end of her program, a couple of girls approached Kendrick to tell her they gained the confidence to audition for a project for which they had been nervous to audition. They said it was because of Kendrick’s program that helped them feel like they mattered.

The organization’s next big project will be April 10th through the 14th, called Masterpiece, featuring a younger cast than usual of eight to 10-year-olds.

“I’ve realized we have to start younger,” said Kendrick who has been searching for a venue to perform this project since December but has not yet finalized anything.

Admission prices for Restoration of the Arts productions range from $15 to $20, the proceeds of which help pay for the price of the production. To keep up-to-date with their schedule, visit their Facebook page.

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